The Oil on canvas painting, entitled The Blacks, by Moroccan artist Mohamed Melehi recently made the news of art journals worldwide. The work broke record sales at the online Sotheby auction held March 27-31, 2020. The 20th Century Art / Middle East event estimated that the piece would sell between 55,000 – 65,000 GBP, however, the signed, titled and dated MELEHI ’63 NEW-YORK work blew the audience away when it sold at a groundbreaking price of 399,000 GBP.
The Blacks, one of Melehi’s earliest works, has been presented at many shows across Europe and the Middle East. It dates back to 1963 when Melehi was living and working in New York City. 1963 was an important year for the elevation of his work with a showing at the MOMA’s “Hard Edge and Geometric Painting and Sculpture” exhibition. Melehi spent the next decade attending live jazz concerts such as Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus at the Five Spot Club. This was also the period in which he developed a keen awareness of experimental geometry and primary structures in the context of speed, sound, and technology. These multidimensional spaces, chromatic squares, and arrangements are demonstrated in The Blacks and reflect his personal history in the Empire City.
In addition to featuring Melehi, the 20th Century Art / Middle East sale exhibited rare and high sought after artists from the modern to contemporary periods. Among them were Kamrooz Aram, Mahmoud Sabri, and Melehi’s fellow innovator Farid Belkahia. Both men were well known in the Casablanca art circles and are considered the main founders of Moroccan modernism which emerged during the early 60s. The auction showcased Belkahia’s ‘Jerusalem’, a work he painted following a trip to a mosque in Israel.